Randy Ingermanson wrote a brilliant explanation for why Stieg Larsson’s Trilogy Works despite obvious flaws in the October 5, 2010 edition of his popular e-zine, The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. Here’s a quick summary:
Stieg Larsson’s novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has been sitting on the Top 100 list on Amazon fornearly two years now. Its two sequels have followed itup the charts. For several months this year, thesebooks held the top three positions.
The question is: Why are these books selling so well?
If you’ve been writing fiction very long, you know thatStieg Larsson is violating several cardinal rules here:
- Don’t use a prologue — readers don’t read them.
- Start with your protagonist.
- Bring your characters on in action.
- Put no backstory in the first fifty pages.
- If you must put in backstory, dole it out in bits.
How is Stieg Larsson getting away with violating somany rules?
Those pesky rules are there to make it as likely aspossible that you engage the reader’s interest. If you engage the reader’s interest while breaking a rule or two or twenty, the reader won’t care.
The real question is this: What is Stieg Larsson doingthat engages his reader’s interest so effectively?
- He creates unanswered questions.
- He creates three-dimensional characters.
- He creates a complex storyline.
A story doesn’t sell because it has no weaknesses. A story sells because it has great strengths.
The lesson here for every novelist is that you canworkshop a novel to death, removing every possibleweakness, making sure that it has nothing to offend anyone. Or you can focus on powering up your novel’s strengths.
Can you guess which approach is likely to earn you themost readers?